Like most women in their forties, I have goals I have yet to accomplish. Some of these goals are bucket list items that I have tucked away in my “priority” bucket, but have always found a reason to push those goals aside for something more practical. Being happily married, a mother of two girls and working as a registered nurse, one might think I should approach life in a more sensible way. Life isn’t all about me, after all.
I tend to spend the majority of my time and energy on the important people in my life. Those important people are the typical cast of characters, my immediate family and friends. At times, I would be completely involved in everyone else’s life, but not in a healthy way. Not in a way that made good sense. Balancing has not always been my strong suit and I would get easily immersed in any given situation. I also suffered from the inability to say “no.” Finding myself helping people, almost “needing” to fix their dilemmas, and running out of time for my own needs became common place. I could have stepped back at any moment from these situations but it wasn’t in my nature to do so. Yet, it definitely was time to do so. As we experience so many doors in life close (thankfully others do open), we are reminded that life is too short.
One day, something inside me just clicked. The same way people describe a light bulb going on in your head, that’s exactly how it was. Maybe I just finally realized that life was too short or maybe I was fed up with the “same old, same old,” but whatever it was, life was about to change. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but I remember how it happened.
I had gone to work and got there a little before the change of shift. A few of the day shift girls were talking about going back to school. Many of the nurses that I work with, including myself, were graduates of an associate degree program. Now and days, there is a demand for nurses who possess a bachelor’s degree. There are some hospitals, many in fact, that won’t hire a registered nurse without it. Trends were changing, and higher education was being promoted in the field of nursing like never before. Low and behold, a bachelor’s degree was one of my “priority” bucket list items and it was the main topic of discussion.
I wasn’t immediately involved in the conversation, I was merely placing my purse down and preparing to take report, when Danielle (a friend, more than a co-worker) asked me if I wanted to go back to school. I remember that moment like it was yesterday.
It went just like this: “Melissa, do you want to go back to school?”
I answered, without hesitation, “Yes! Absolutely. When do we start?”
I had no idea the semester was going to start in only a few weeks. I had nothing prepared, no transcript, no essay, not even the paperwork from the college.
There was another question I asked, “What college?”
When Danielle said, “Wagner College,” I was suddenly overwhelmed with several emotions. Elation, fear, joy, doubt, and certainly anxiety was mixed in there, big time. This was a college I had always dreamed of going t0 since I was a young girl.
Wagner College has a great nursing program for registered nurses going back for their bachelor’s degrees. The college itself is just beautiful, with such a picturesque Main Hall and campus, it was the perfect place for me to continue my education. I wanted to do this, no question. I was excited at the thought of it, a little scared too, but mostly excited…and determined.
Wagner was a little too expensive back in the day when Mom and Dad were flipping the bill, even though they would have gladly paid the tuition, the practical side of me wasn’t having it. My plan; go to community college, get my associate’s degree, pass my state boards and get a nursing job that I would love. Of course marriage and family were also in my plans, as well as going back to school someday. The problem with going back to school when it is entirely by choice, and not mandatory, is that it never seems to happen. Everything else trumps that idea, and so you just continue to put it off. Before I knew it, I had put it off for 20 years.
Two decades later, and now I’m thinking of going back to school? Was I just dreaming? No, I wasn’t dreaming, I was wide awake. Danielle had my full attention and I was taking down all the information to get the ball rolling. One of the best parts, my employer was the one covering the tuition. You can’t get more practical than that. This wasn’t just going to happen someday, it was happening. I was going back to school…now.
I remember announcing the news to my family like a proclamation. Okay, maybe it wasn’t that dramatic, but it was still pretty cool. Today was my day to shine. I told my family I had been accepted to Wagner College and I was starting classes at the end of August. To my astonishment, they were all thrilled for me. There were no questions about where would I find the time, or how this would impact the family, it was nothing but support and love. My mother had her concerns for my wellbeing because I worked full-time, but as long as I was happy, she was happy. I assured her I was going to take it slow, and only one class at a time, this way I wouldn’t burn myself out. The way I had this planned out, I should be done with school in about 5 years, give or take.
This was the real deal, I was running to classes, books in hand, admiring the campus and loving every bit of it. I was usually the oldest student in the class with the most life experience. The other students never made me feel unwelcome, even though I was the same age as their parents. It was a little strange if I was older than the professor though, but I got over that and so did they. Sure there were some frustrating times and classes that left me shaking my head, wondering why this class was even necessary, but for the most part Wagner College fulfilled my dreams of what a higher education was all about. I was learning and experiencing a variety of unfamiliar things and had a much deeper appreciation and respect for this new found knowledge. Being an adult student is something I highly recommend. Anyone who has a chance to advance their education, especially if it is an employee benefit, should take full advantage of this amazing opportunity.
During this time I’m certain I drove my family crazy with my obsession on getting good grades. This was a side of me that my husband hadn’t seen since we were kids. Victor and I have been together since freshman year of high school and he has always been a source of encouragement when it came to my studies. Even though I know I made my family nuts while I was in Wagner, they were still supportive and gave me a wide berth, especially when it was time for finals or when research papers were due. No matter how insane I must have appeared to them, they continued to cheer me on all the way to the finish line.
On May 22 of this year I graduated from Wagner College with my Bachelors of Science degree. It took me 4 years instead of the originally projected 5, because I grew impatient and started taking multiple classes toward the end. Graduation day was incredible and a memory I will cherish for the rest of my life. My Mom, who had been very ill at times during my education at Wagner, was thankfully well enough to attend the commencement ceremony. This was something I always wanted Mom to see and so many times I was afraid she would never get that chance. I wanted to make Mom proud, and that day she absolutely was beaming with pride.
Just when I thought emotions like that couldn’t be topped, I gathered together with my husband and my daughters, Victoria and Samantha, for pictures after the ceremony. We all hugged and joked around, and then I heard Victor say, with tears in his eyes, “You did it, I’m so proud of you,” and we just cried together. Right there, in front of that picturesque Main Hall building, we were a mess and it was surreal.
I wore my cap and gown that day for about 10 hours, I didn’t want to take them off. I just didn’t want the day to end. It was one of the best days of my life and I couldn’t believe such a major bucket list item had just been crossed off. My only regret was waiting as long as I did, but I have to believe that everything happens in its own time. Going back to college was everything I had hoped it would be and more. I am eternally grateful to the people in my life that gave me the strength to see this through. An accomplishment such as this would have been impossible without the unwavering support of my family, especially my husband. Vic is a gem.
Yet, none of this would have happened without the initial spark. My greatest inspiration and hero in all of this was really Danielle. Having her friendship by my side through this life experience was a blessing. During those challenging times of family illnesses and uncertainty, and believe me…there were many, Danielle kept me on the path. It takes a really influential person to change the course of someone’s life, and I could never thank Danielle enough for asking such an important question that did just that. She was not only the spark, but the light that led me the rest of the way.